The Walsh Cup offers Kilkenny supporters an early opportunity to assess the form of the players at the start of another year, writes Nickey Brennan.
Supporters looked particularly excited in Freshford on Sunday week when Kilkenny lined up against the Dublin Institute of Technology. It is quite a number of years since Kilkenny followers had to wait so long for a competitive game after exiting the previous year’s championship.
The Kilkenny side against DIT was a typical first outing side with a few of last year’s panel, plus others hoping to breakthrough to the senior ranks in 2014.
The visitors were a huge disappointment. With a number of inter-county players in their ranks I expected a better challenge, but they were well beaten long before the final whistle.
Conclusions cannot be drawn from any games played in January, irrespective of the opposition, but the attitude of the Kilkenny players was excellent.
The work rate and commitment from the players was top class and, unlike their opponents, Kilkenny played as a team.
On Sunday Galway came to Freshford and this time some familiar faces lined out in the black and amber. Freshford hosted its largest crowd for some time and it is fair to assume that most came to see the return of Henry Shefflin.
Sharp and keen
They would have left in no doubt that our finest ever hurler looked as sharp and as keen as ever. However, it was a January fixture so we need to keep all assessments of Shefflin and his colleagues in context.
Kilkenny put in an impressive opening 20 minutes and while Galway dominated the rest of the half it was clear that their five-point interval lead would be insufficient against a Kilkenny side with wind-advantage after the break.
Colin Fennelly’s first half goal was a real blow to the visitors, but in truth they were coming out second best in many of the duels.
Superb defending, particularly from Paul Murphy and Brian Hogan, kept Galway’s scoring in check in the first half but the Westerners did impress as the game ebbed towards the interval.
Kilkenny’s nineteen points to three for Galway pretty well sums up how the second half went.
Galway’s lack of discipline did not help their cause as they conceded a string of careless fouls. A red card to one of their players for a crude stroke on Eoin Larkin was an inevitable consequence of some over-robust play.
For Kilkenny this game was another step in the right direction and an ideal opportunity to give more of last year’s squad some game time.
Henry Shefflin’s return went as well as anyone could have expected and he, along with Colin Fennelly and newcomer Jonjo Farrell, gave the Galway defence a torrid time.
These games are a process towards sharpening players and building up the squad. At the moment some well-known players are not in the squad.
I hope they are continuing to keep in shape because we will need them come the Summer.
Galway was minus the Portumna contingent but it is clear that Anthony Cunningham has plenty of work to undertake with his squad.
The Westerners will be back in Kilkenny on March 9 for a National Hurling League game so it is best if we leave it until then to properly assess their prospects in 2014.
On Saturday (5pm) as part of a very attractive double bill in Croke Park with the Dublin/Kerry National Football League opening round game, Kilkenny and Dublin will play the final of the Walsh Cup.
It is a good game for both counties to get with the start of the National Hurling League just around the corner. The winning or losing of games is not of major importantance so early in the season.
Getting players and permutations sorted before the start of the League is what it is all about, really. Both Kilkenny and Dublin are moving in the right direction. Saturday’s final will be a help too.